NBA Teams
Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer 27d

Translating Thibs: Two ex-Bulls knows what's behind gruff stuff

NBA, Minnesota Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Taj Gibson embarks on a new chapter of his basketball life with Tom Thibodeau, this time as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the veteran power forward wants his young teammates to understand just how good they have it with Thibodeau version 2.0.

"I'm trying to tell you what I was telling the rookies," Gibson explained recently. "When I first met Thibs I didn't speak to Thibs. For almost two years. [Now], he's talking to you every day. That's something good. Take that and run with it."

As he did during a five-year stint as coach of the Chicago Bulls, Thibodeau expects Gibson to be a defensive force and a unifying presence in the locker room, but what the Timberwolves also expect both from Gibson, and All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, is to be an evangelist for the Gospel of Thibs. With a roster gleaming with impressionable young stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the pair of former Bulls know that one of their chief goals is to be an interpreter of Thibodese, the language that the hard-charging coach spews on a daily basis. It's a role that both Gibson and Butler are embracing as they start the season.

"I have to be," Butler said of being a Thibs interpreter. "I think everybody including myself is going to get tired of Thibs' voice a lot of the times so I'm going to have to be the guy to get his message and point across probably at a 90 percent tone of what he's doing, so yeah I'll be there for that."

Both men have plenty of stories centering on Thibodeau's barking baritone. It can drive a player crazy at times, but Gibson and Butler also understand that it helped make them better. That's why Butler, now 28, couldn't help but crack a playful truism when asked what separates a Thibodeau defense from others around the league.

"Besides the fact that he's going to be yelling at you what to do every time down the floor?" Butler said. "I think it's just the amount of reps and how it's just drilled into you every day in practice of where you're supposed to be when this happens or when that happens."

One of Thibodeau's favorite mantras throughout his career is, "The magic is in the work," a phrase he drilled into the Bulls' collective psyche during his five years in Chicago. With a Timberwolves squad on the rise, he knows how important having two confidantes like Gibson and Butler will be for his team.

"Well I think it's more important who they are and what we needed," Thibodeau said. "But I think that they know the system is an added bonus. We needed to add veteran experience. Getting Jimmy, a guy of that caliber going into the prime of his career, we were very fortunate to get that done, and having coached Taj before, I know how good he is defensively. He's as good as it gets in terms of versatility moving his feet and giving you the ability to switch, and so with our wings now Jimmy and Wig and Taj that gives us the ability to do a lot of switching 2-3-4."

At 21, Towns knows it's a luxury to add players who already know the system.

"It's going to help a lot," Towns said. "When you have people who [are] used to a system, it changes how it is. If you look at Golden State and stuff it took time for those guys to be together and years to get used to each other. We're very fortunate that we have players, weirdly enough it seems like we're bringing Chicago to Minnesota. Everyone really knows the system, which is great, because it expedites our process by tenfold."

One of Butler's biggest frustrations in Chicago, especially during his final few years, was that he didn't feel some of his teammates were putting in the requisite amount of time to make themselves better. After watching the way Towns and Wiggins approach their business, he is excited about the possibilities his new group can offer, especially with Thibodeau leading the way.

"I hear so many good things about how the young guys here work," Butler said. "I love that. If you go back and look, all I ever wanted was guys that just relentlessly worked. When they're bored they go to the gym. When they get to choose, 'Hey, do I want to play a video game or go shoot?' And they're picking to go shoot. Those are winning habits. That just shows how great you want to be and that's what I want to be a part of."

As Gibson looks back on the time the trio spent in Chicago, he admits that he repeatedly asked himself the same question.

"The details was on the money with Thibs," Gibson said of the veteran coach's game plans. "And I always ask myself, 'Why does he always stay in the hotel room so long? What is he doing in that room?' And then it all comes back to me. He's really in that hotel room coming out with different movements because every day in practice he'll always come out and switch things on the fly. But he will switch them to your capabilities."

The craziest thing about that preparation is that Gibson, who has enjoyed a tight relationship with Thibodeau for years, now sees a different side of the coach with the gruff exterior. Since coming back into Thibodeau's system, he can see some changes.

"It was like I never left. I just jumped right back into things," Gibson says. "[Thibs has] changed in a lot of ways. I try to tell the young guys, when he first came in he was green. He didn't really know how to communicate. The way he communicates now and how he draws things up on the board, it amazes me, because he was not that outspoken at first. Now, he's explaining things in detail, but giving you a good story along with it. And he's real passionate now."

While some of Thibodeau's approach might be different, at his core, the 59-year-old coach remains steadfast in other beliefs: Hard work and preparation trump everything -- facts that Gibson and Butler know all too well and have already started reminding their teammates, both young and old, to remember.

"He's changed a lot," Gibson said. [But] the drills haven't changed. I try to tell Jamal [Crawford] every day, 'This ain't the Clippers.' "

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